As I write this, the temperature outside is 36°C, the air conditioner in my bedroom is on the fritz and the kids are irritable. In mid-August, Japan suffered its highest air temperature ever, breaking a 74-year old record. The unlucky hot spot was Kumagaya, just north of Tokyo, where it was a sweltering 40.9°C (about 106°F ).
There is no doubt that something is going on with the weather. Real families are suffering real losses, and in this last heat wave, 12 people, mainly elderly, died. Maybe such tragedies will wake up the Japanese government and get them to devote some real resources and incentives to get industry and consumers to go green.
Although many people feel that Japan is already doing quite a bit to improve the environment, with solar cells, hybrid cars, and power-saving air conditioners, these ‘contributions’ are not stopping people buying and burning more energy and producing greenhouse gasses in record quantities. Despite the massive global PR and economic benefits that Japan would reap if it took leadership on this issue, I’m surprised how little direction is being shown by government.
Back in the ’90s, Japan seized leadership in solar cells, Sharp and other companies became the world’s largest producers. This was achieved partly through generous government tax incentives for home owners/builders to install them. However, over the last few years, these subsidies have dwindled to almost zero. Germany is now the leading installer of photovoltaic systems in the world. Renewing the tax break would significantly improve local demand for solar cells and prevent the loss of solar production and expertise to other nations.
Of course the heat isn’t all bad. Everything from tourism to ‘Cool Biz’ business attire and soda drinks, not to mention air conditioners, have all performed well over the last two years as a result of the heat. Asahi and Kirin last year both reported August sales about 10% above average, and this year, sales were 10% higher again.
Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of this very hot summer will be the carbon emissions traders, who are relying on the Kyoto Protocol and environmental politics to position themselves for one of the biggest commercial bonanzas of all time—trading the rights for thin air. More sweltering weather like this and you can be sure that voters will start to push their members to do something about global warming. Laws will be passed to trade emissions, penalize emitters, investigate and study the environment, introduce non-carbon based energy, and many other variations of the theme. Although the Kyoto Accord was not signed by the US, Australia, and others, many nations did sign it and are taking the agreement seriously. Japan is at the forefront of such efforts, and Japanese trading firms as well as the government are literally pouring billions of dollars into creating this market.
Regardless of the politics of global warming, I do believe that the current trend towards greener products and environmental awareness needs to be encouraged. Not only will less particulates in the air be healthier for us and our kids, the scientific and financial innovations required to produce such products and services will provide Japan with an economic stimulus that will see it maintain its place in the world of commerce, with or without oil.